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Space Science

Kepler Discovers 'Phantom' Exoplanet 78

astroengine writes "The Kepler space telescope has spotted an extra-solar planet with a very odd orbit. Sometimes Kepler-19b slows down by five minutes during its 9-day orbit. Other times it speeds up by five minutes. Johannes Kelper's laws of orbital dynamics never said a celestial body can arbitrarily speed up and slow down; another planetary body must therefore be gravitationally acting on Kepler-19b. Enter Kepler-19c, a world that hasn't been observed, but its gravitational effects have. This is an unprecedented discovery, one that could potentially be used in multi-planetary star systems to discover more 'phantom' worlds that would have otherwise gone unnoticed."
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Kepler Discovers 'Phantom' Exoplanet

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 10, 2011 @03:41PM (#37363784)

    First, read the summary. Then read the article. In this article you will see that we have found a planet orbiting a star 650 light years away. The fact that we are able to detect it at all is quite amazing. The advances in optic, the investment in space-based telescope, the ability to process the tons of data that this telescope have produced is plain astounding.

    Then you have to factor in the optic advancement to see this planet directly. Then you realize just how freaking far science has come along. Run the numbers and this would be like studying a germ on the moon from an observatory from earth.

    Now realize that you can not only see this planet, but you can study its motion with enough precision to notice a five minute variance in its motion. I don't even know what the analogy is here. It is beyond amazing and a testament to the scientific revolution we have witnessed over the past century or three.

    Now go up and read the moronic posts above. A couple of twits argue about whether this is "unprecedented"... I'd love to see their resumes and what they have accomplished in their lives. A couple other idiots quote the same futurama episode. A couple aren't even that clever and make Uranus jokes.

    Slashdot ain't what it used to be.

  • Re:Binary planet? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by DG ( 989 ) on Saturday September 10, 2011 @08:43PM (#37365120) Homepage Journal

    That makes me wonder how much energy is being transferred to / from this planet every time its orbit speeds up / slows down.

    I bet it's not the most geologically stable place in the universe - assuming it isn't a gas giant.


  • Re:Binary planet? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by gstrickler ( 920733 ) on Saturday September 10, 2011 @08:58PM (#37365168)

    Perhaps you missed the significance of a +/- 5 minute variance of a 9 day orbit. That's 5/(9*1440) = 5/12960 = 1/2592. That's nearly 0.04% variance in the orbital period of a planet. To achieve that much change in orbital period, the velocity change needs to be at least that great, and likely at least 2x that great (since speed changes won't be instantaneous, it will have to slow down 2x as much to average 0.04% slower orbital rate).

    Given gravity is inversely proportional to the square of the distance between the centers of mass, how much more massive must the other body be to produce that much change in velocity? Even if the other body is in a 4:3 resonance, making it "relatively close", it would still need to be vastly more massive than the observed planet. If it's vastly more massive and in orbit around the same star in a 4:3 resonance, we would definitely be able to detect it by it's doppler shift of the star unless it's orbital plane is almost perfectly perpendicular to our line of sight, and then we would still likely observe an effect on the star.

    The other possibility is that there is a third massive body in the system that playing tug-o-war with the planet, pulling it away from the star, then the star pulls it closer, constantly changing it's orbit. That way the velocity of the planet doesn't have to change as much, however, how such a system could produce such an oscillation in the planet's orbit, sometimes increasing it and sometimes decreasing it resulting in such large changes in orbital period without also causing measurable effects on the star is mystery.

    We may eventually figure it out, but for now, that much variation in orbital rate is really bizarre.

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